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Working for conservation in a remote village, this rural woman fought water scarcity

By Bharat Dogra* 
Pushpa lives in a very remote village Khakraun of Mohangarh block (located in Tikamgath district of Madhya Pradesh). As she says: "This is a remote village of a remote development block." However the graduate young lady was not overwhelmed by the remoteness of her new surroundings. She decided to study further in a Master of Social Work course. 
What is more, she was always looking out for opportunities to use her education in ways that would contribute to the welfare of her village. She got together a number of children who had lagged behind in school education and started teaching them.
Her efforts soon attracted the attention of a voluntary organization Parmarth which was trying to mobilize and train several women for water conservation and other related constructive works. Pushpa appeared to be ideally suited for this role and she was soon selected as a jal saheli (or water friend). She started attending training workshops and went for exposure visit to villages of Sagar district where exemplary water conservation work had been carried out earlier. 
This widened her horizons and she started thinking of similar possibilities of improving water conservation in and around her village where water scarcity was frequently an important constraint for people trying to improve or enhance their rural livelihoods.
She now had a better appreciation of the need for mobilizing more people and by talking over with her friends in her village, she soon managed to create a group of about 25 to 30 women who were willing to come together for work of community’s welfare. “We could not hold formal group meetings due to several constraints, but we could reach an understanding that we will mobilize and work together when need arises”, she says.
Meanwhile COVID related factors led to distress conditions including food shortages in several families of weaker sections. In such a situation Pushpa worked with Parmarth to distribute nutritious food to several women and households.
Pushpa also helped in the production of healthier food by practicing and promoting natural farming, particularly in the context of growing a diversity of vegetables.
When NGO Parmarth started working on a watershed project in this region in seven villages, including her own village, Pushpa saw this as an opportunity to take forward her own vision of conserving water as a means of promoting livelihoods of people which had been constrained to a large extent by water scarcity. 
Hence she started taking a keen interest in this watershed project supported by NABARD, extending help herself and motivating several of her friends to do so. In particular their contribution has been significant in the efforts to revive Bargi river. 
Repair of a check dam and a sack dam (temporary dam created with sacks filled with sand) has contributed to this and to increased availability of irrigation water for farmers. In addition other efforts in which Pushpa and her friends helped related to creation of farm ponds and afforestation.
Pushpa helped produce healthier food by practicing and promoting natural farming in order to grow diverse vegetables
These contributions of Pushpa have been in an entirely voluntary capacity without receiving any payment or honorarium. She is a noble representatives of those educated rural women who instead of trying to somehow move to cities see an important role for themselves and their education in improving many sided welfare and development activities in their villages.
One constraint for such efforts relates to the many restrictions placed on the social mobility of women in tradition-bound villages. However women like Pushpa who combine courage with understanding of society have responded to this difficulty in their way. 
As I could see when I visited her home recently, she is quite willing to observe some of the restrictive behavior which is supposed to be in keeping with the prevailing social mores, but only to the extent that the more important social work she wants to take up is not curbed or checked. 
This is a compromise that Pushpa and others like her are evolving in a careful, understanding way, so that the path for their wider social role can be facilitated without creating any avoidable disruption.
There may be some difficulties and constraints in this, but ultimately this is the path of social change that is likely to be most acceptable and likely to be most extensively achievable while creating the least problems.
With their better understanding of their society women like Pushpa are likely to understand the nuances of such social change much better than any outsider can. This is why their efforts are so important and can provide very god learning for social change. Tomorrow with her MSW degree when Pusha is a senior position where she can help others to walk the same path, she will be able to fulfill a bigger social role for which she is acquiring much valuable experience now.
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “Man over Machine”, “When the Two Streams Met” and “A Day in 2071”. Photo: Gaurav Pandey 

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